Last Friday I was at the Loops + Splices symposium hosted at Victoria University Wellington, and co-organised by Victoria and some of my Massey colleagues. Overall it was a fun and entertaining day with some really strong talks.
The keynote speaker was Professor Ian Christie, who was over from Birkbeck College in London. Christie’s presentation was entitled ‘Denying depth: uncovering the hidden history of 3D in photography and film’ and provided a genealogical/media archaeological exploration of stereography, moving from a range of pre-film technologies through to contemporary 3D cinema such as Avatar. Christie’s starting point was the outright dismissal of 3D as a gimmick by film critics such as the late Roger Ebert and respected editor Walter Murch who argued that ‘It (3D) doesn’t work with our brains and it never will.’ Christie’s argument developed through the interest which pioneering film theorists such as Andre Bazin and Sergei Eisenstein both had in stereoscopy, and passed through a variety of technologies and techniques by which 3D cinema was a reality in the 19th and 20th centuries. It was interesting to learn that until the stabilisation of photographic techniques through the standardisation enacted by cheap consumer cameras such as the Eastman Kodak, that 3D images were as popular and common as their non-stereo counterparts. Christie argued that the adoption of 3D imaging and simulation apparatus by professions such as surgeons and pilots demonstrates the range of utility presented by stereo imaging techniques, and that it is wrong to dismiss the technology on the basis of some of the poor narrative qualities of the 3D films which followed Avatar. It also feels worth noting that Christie was a model keynote speaker throughout the day, being engaged with all the panels, asking thoughtful and pertinent questions, and being kind and generous about the various presentations which followed his keynote.
The morning panel following the keynote was composed of Allan Cameron from the University of Auckland, and my Massey colleagues Kevin Glynn, Max Schleser along with myself. Allan’s paper, “Facing the Glitch: Abstraction, Abjection, and the Digital Face” examined the history of glitch as a form within both music and video, and specifically explored the role of the face within glitch videos. The paper outlined ways in which forms of long group of picture compression and the generation of intermediate frames which are interpreted from keyframes serves as a framework for work which uses compression artifacts, pixelation and glitch as an aesthetic strategy. I have to say, that on a personal level, any paper which shows clips of glitched up sequences from David Cronenberg’s Videodrome is a winner.
Kevin’s paper “Technologies of Indigeneity: Māori Television and Convergence Culture” comes out of his Marsden-funded project working with Julie Cupples on ‘Geographies of Media Convergence: Spaces of Democracy, Connectivity and the Reconfiguration of Cultural Citizenship.’ The paper focused on NZ media representations of the Urewera raids of 2007, and a more recent case where Air NZ, who prominently feature Maori iconography in their branding, terminated an interview with a woman for having a ta moko (traditional body markings), which they claimed would unsettle their customers. The paper explored impacts associated with the introduction of Maori TV and social networking software such as Facebook and Twitter on the ability of Maori to represent themselves and partake in mediated debates surrounding cultural identity.
Max’s paper “A Decade of Mobile Moving Image Practice” was an overview of some of the changes that have occurred over last the ten years with regards to mobile phone filmmaking. Going from the early days of experimenting with low resolution 3GP files which were not designed to be ingested or edited, through to the contemporary situation whereby a range of mobile phone apps exist to provide varying levels of control for users working in High Definition, Max mapped out some of the ways that the portability and intimacy afforded by mobile phones allow for modes of filmmaking which depart from the intrusive nature of working with digital cinema cameras. It was also highly entertaining to see some decade-old pictures of Max looking very young.
My paper, “ArchEcologies of Ewaste” was a look at how media archaeology and media ecologies can be complementary methods in examining a range of issues pertaining to materiality and the deleterious impacts caused by the toxic digital detritus that we discard, focusing particularly on ewaste in New Zealand, where there currently isn’t a mandatory (or even free) nationwide ewaste collection scheme, unlike in the EU where the WEEE directive mandates that all ewaste must be recycled in high tech local facilities. The prezi for the talk is here if you’re interested.
After lunch there were a couple of panels, with some varied and interesting presentations, from which my two highlights were the papers from Michael Daubs and Allen Meek. Michael’s paper “What’s New is Past: Flash Animation and Cartoon History” conducted a re-evaluation of early rhetorics of the revolutionary newness and democratic and transformative potentials of Flash animation, exploring the way in which a range of cell animation techniques such as layering and keyframing were appropriated into Flash, alongside a detailed history of Flash’s adoption in Web-based animation. The paper concluded by mobilising this archaeological exhumation of past claims surrounding deterministic claims for democratising technologies to interrogate some of the hyperbole surrounding HTML5 and CSS3, the currently-still-being-finalised web standards which incorporate scalable vector graphics into the web itself, thus removing the need for a proprietary layer of Flash on top of web-native code.
Allen’s paper, “Testimony and the chronophotographic gesture” examined the historical relationships between gesture, imaging technology and biopolitics. The paper began by exploring ways that early film was utilised under Taylorism as a means by which to quantify bodily movements and gestures in order to recombine them in the most temporally efficient manner so as to enact a form of disciplinarity upon the workforce. This history of gesture on film as a tool for quantifying gesture was contrasted with material from Claude Lanzmann’s Shoah, where gesture was used to reawaken embodied but subconscious memories of the Holocaust, which are being recorded for the documentary as a means of bearing witness to those memories. The dialectic between the employment of film as an apparatus of disciplinarity and as a means of witnessing was theorised via Agamben and Foucauldian biopolitics, and made for a fascinating paper.
There were also interesting and enjoyable papers from Damion Sturm, who examined T20 cricket in Australia as an exemplar of the increasing mediatisation of sport, Kirsten Moana Thompson, who used A Single Man as a case study to explore a range of phenomena surrounding digital technologies and colour in cinema, and Leon Gurevitch who examined some of the relationships between industrial design practices and computational 3D design and animation practices .
On the whole, it was a hugely enjoyable day, and it was great to meet a range of researchers doing various forms of work around media, archaeology, history and technology. A big thanks to the Loops + Splices organising committee, Kirsten Thompson, Miriam Ross, Kathleen Kuehn, Alex Bevan, Radha O’Meara, and Michelle Menzies, for putting everything together.